From Vienna To Hollywood… and Back Again

A reflection on the historical and cultural significance of John Williams’s performances with the Wiener Philharmoniker in January 2020, now released internationally by the Deutsche Grammophon label

John Williams conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein in Vienna in January 2020 (Photo © Terry Linke / Deutsche Grammophon)
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A Herald for All Musicians

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Photo by Jamie Trueblood /Lucasfilm Ltd.

With The Rise of Skywalker, composer John Williams has completed his own musical cycle, putting the final coda on a rich musical glossary he started to work on 42 years earlier. When the composer wrote and recorded that film score in 1977, he couldn’t imagine how big the impact of his music would have been, and how long it would have resonated with audiences throughout the subsequent decades. As he told recently to film journalist and film music historian Jon Burlingame:

“Forty years ago, if you said to me, ‘Here’s a project, John, and I want you to write 25 hours of music,’ I would have dropped my pencil case and said, ‘It’s impossible. No one can do that,’”

Yet the composer was able to return to that musical world always with the same amount of enthusiasm, creativity, and devotion for all the subsequent scores he penned for the intergalactic space opera initiated by George Lucas, which now covers a time span of almost half of his life.

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Inspire in absentia: Memoirs from London and Vienna

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The London Symphony Orchestra performing the concert “A Celebration of John Williams” at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday October 26th, 2018 (Photo by Christie Goodwin, courtesy of Royal Albert Hall)

As it was announced just a couple of days before the show, John Williams had to cancel his appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 26, 2018 due to a last-minute illness that unfortunately caught him upon his arrival in the UK’s capitol. The composer was set to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in a long-awaited concert featuring his beloved movie music in a career-spanning program. The event (which sold-out in a few hours after it was announced in February 2018) was tremendously anticipated by fans of John Williams all around the world–the concert would have been his first on the European soil after twenty years (his last concert happened indeed in London in 1998 with the LSO). Admirers from all corners of Europe and even from other continents booked flights, hotels and tickets to not miss the event. The orchestra, the Royal Albert Hall management and the composer himself were also anticipating with thrill what promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime evening. The occasion was all the more special because of the true “special relationship” between Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra and, as producer Mike Matessino wrote on the concert’s program notes, with the London music scene in general, a love affair that goes back since the late 1960s, when Williams ended up living and working in the city for several projects.

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The significance of a legacy

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This simple picture sums up what this blog is about and the purpose at its core. An old saying recites “a picture is worth a thousand words”. That is what comes to mind seeing such a lovely picture from 2016 (courtesy of Gloria Cheng).

The impact John Williams’ music has on young people is probably one of his most lasting legacies. Seeing the Maestro surrounded by so many young music students (namely, from the music program at the UCLA School of Music) is a view that warms the heart. Continue reading “The significance of a legacy”